Today in our time of Corona Virus, a scourge that supposedly threatens life on earth, many of us are cowering in our homes. Maybe that’s a little harsh. We are sheltering in place. Most of us can do that. Well, those with homes. Time for a bit of self-reflection, we spend time with family, catch up on Netflix. (I just heard Outlander is quite a show for those looking for a stirring swash buckling vaguely historical storytelling of English v the Scotts, King James, the Catholic Church etc. Quite a bit of violent sword play, and enough sex to satisfy most red-blooded Americans) Some people don’t have a stable home. I didn’t. When Corona was really hitting our country, I was in the process of moving and finishing a series of classes. It wasn’t a good time to move or look for a new job. It was most inconvenient. I was in a precarious between places situation. Not knowing what to do I thought of many scenarios, had fear and indecision, but ultimately decided to drive from Portland to Iowa to sit this thing out at the home of my mother. It worked out but gave me some perspective on many who have housing and or job insecurity. But enough about me (for now).
While the virus spreads around the globe, and causes death to some and universal upheaval, our government is being cowed into putting up 2.2 trillion dollars to shore up the economy, including improving and extending unemployment benefits and supposedly paying out cash payments to all adults of $1200. A government’s most important role, I think, would be to protect and defend the people of the nation from all enemies foreign and domestic. This situation, though unorthodox, I think qualifies. According to the Boston Globe (April 12 or 13) which I read on MSN, there are over half a million infected in the US, and 22,000 deaths to date. New York city is the hot spot has what 104,000 reported cases and 6,100 deaths.
Our government is quite schizophrenic. It was founded on the ideals of freedom of religion, of freedom of choice in what occupation to pursue, where one lived, who you married. It was a new nation, on a new continent and to be made in a fresh mold from bold, adventurous self-directed people.
It was founded as a representative government but not entirely so. Senators were to be chosen by the legislature which were controlled by party bosses (later changed) and the house reps were voted in by popular vote. Then there is the strange way we select a president, not exactly based upon who got the most votes but the anachronistic institution of the electoral college. The country was founded by slave owners and rich estate men as well as people who wanted freedom and democracy. But it was founded in a land already inconveniently inhabited by millions of people who lived in a pre-modern lifestyle in more or less harmony with nature.
Native Americans were viewed as inconvenient, then as a problem to be put in reservations or eliminated. Early agreements with Native peoples were almost universally broken, eventually.
And women and slaves, were second class and third-class citizens, or in the case of slaves maybe not even citizens at all, but here, nonetheless. Then, finally, a civil war sort of ended slavery and put us on a higher moral ground. Concurrent to that was the incredible transformations of the 19th century, with the many inventions that heralded in the modern world. The industrial revolution transformed work. Machines were developed that doubled, tripled, made ten-fold increases in the amount of work a person (now running a machine) could accomplish. Remember Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin? We don’t need slaves to pick the cotton anymore.
And Private Property and Capitalism. These most American of institutions which are so schizophrenic especially in times of crisis. The capitalist motto, “Privatize profits, socialize costs” comes to mind. Costs include, exploitation of environment, workers, pollution. But in times of crisis, the people clamor for support, for aide, for direction from the government and its agents. The government must respond, and they are responding in a fashion, but it is somewhat against it’s nature. I worry about the long-term cost of adding another couple trillion to the government (the people’s) debt.
This is such an internal conflict for our American Government today, especially a very divided government headed by a very divisive figure of Donald Trump. The instinct of our resident President and those around him are to make America a friendly and profitable place to do business, mostly for the well off. The land is here to be mined and drilled, bought and sold at profit and industrially farmed etc. But then there are the inconveniences of democracy and working people and health care and now, Corona Virus, Climate Change and habitat loss.
Oh, so difficult. What to do in these times? Yes, we have a very schizophrenic government and in calamitous times.
I must tread lightly here. Yes, there are a lot of people who have died and many more who are infected, and more are sure to come. In my newly opened up schedule, I have been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s historical book about Presidents’ Taft and Teddy Roosevelt in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, book called “Bully Pulpit” and I tell you, even in those quasi modern time, life was tenuous. From this reading I found out that Roosevelts first wife Alice, died shortly after childbirth. Roosevelts mother Mittie died abruptly the same day as Alice of complications from typhoid fever.
Later the youngest son of the president Teddy Roosevelt and his second wife Edith, named Quentin, died in world war I. And of course, the pandemic of 1918-9.
The Taft family were successful hard-working people and would have had access to the health care of the day. Alphonse Taft, William Howard Taft’s father was a successful lawyer and involved in the politics of his day. Yet he died young from bowel cancer. What would have been Will Taft’s first and oldest brother died at 14 months. Another of his brothers, Peter died, from mental health ailments. Nellie Taft, William Taft’s capable wife had a tragic stroke just 10 weeks after the inauguration that she never fully recovered from. I’m only 1/3 through the book. I’m sure to find more tragedy.
What I am trying to say is that life is tenuous, always has been. There are halcyon periods and there are bad times, having unrest, war, plague, famine. But we are not used to this. In the United States over the last 3 generations, say, the last 80 years or so, ups and downs aside, the times for humans, well American humans mostly have been bountiful and long lived. We mostly vanquished other potential plagues like influenza, like measles, polio. We were successful in generating great wealth and world culture. We haven’t been used to being challenged and not having good answers or responses to big problems. But that is changing.
And pandemics are not new things. There was SARS in 2002 and 2003. This was a similar respiratory infection from a virus. It had a limited reach and mortality. Less than 10,000 are officially reported to have died, mostly in China.
The influenza outbreak of 1918 and 1919 killed 50 to 100 million people, mostly in Europe, north Africa and America. According to Wikipedia, the plagues of the late middle ages, the black death, or the bubonic plague killed upwards of 50 million to possibly 200 million people in Europe. That is a staggering number for the day. Europe did not recover to its previous population level for 2 centuries. I read today that so far 119,000 people have died from the corona virus outbreak. We would have a long way to go to reach the pandemic of 1918-9 or the Black death.
Yet in one way it is quite different. This is a global pandemic. No area seems to be completely unaffected. This is not so surprising given the way we have truly globalized trade and travel.
Will this virus change the way we live? For how long? It seems like people are taking it very seriously. We are quarantining in place. We have shut down most “non-essential” businesses temporarily with great impact on the economy and social life. I’m not qualified to say how necessary this is. With death rates of around 2 % give or take this will not be on the level of medieval black death. Most people who get the virus will recover. It also seems that new cases are peaking in many places such as New York City, Italy and Spain.
Now people are taking the social distancing seriously and the hygiene as well. This is slowing the rate of infection. I was getting back into social dancing when the virus hit. That got shut down. I miss it.
But we are adapting. We are using Zoom and so many other tools through the computer that we can stay in touch virtually.
I participated in a Zoom Passover service with 40 or so, other remote people. I am in Iowa where my mother lives and there is an excellent Rabbi here, Rabbi Alan Greene, who mixes Judaism with other forms of spirituality and meditation. For this connection with spirit and a culture that I somewhat identify with I am grateful.
I am grateful for some new friends I made in Portland that have been doing Zoom meet ups and are including me. I am grateful to spend time with my mother.
But I am also struggling with life, my role, loneliness, where to live, how to stay positive, how to be part of the ‘save the planet’ crew, what is my work, professional calling? as I transition out of tree climbing work. Now being idled by sheltering from Corona for these weeks or months, these things are more in focus.
I am reading, studying, writing, wasting time and worrying about the world and my future. I hope we can get back to our interacting and working. But I also fervently hope that we can learn something so we can build a stronger greener less divisive country and refocus on protecting the natural world that we all are ultimately reliant upon.
I hope we can take this time to reflect on life. How can we work towards a more healthy world? Is the current situation just a symptom of an unhealthy system and if so, is throwing 2.2 trillion dollars at it to prop up our economy but not to change our economy, our health care system or to renew and protect the earth, just kicking the can down the road?
Much thanks to Wikipedia for research on this paper.